Facebook is expanding its offerings to include free predictor fantasy sports and other types of fantasy games, a move that troubles problem gambling advocates who see such games acting as a primer to sports betting.
The company on Wednesday launched Facebook Fantasy Games on the Facebook app in the U.S. and Canada, allowing users to make predictions on sporting events and TV shows. As part of the new daily sports prediction games, users will have be able to set their own leagues.
Facebook also announced partnerships with Whistle Sports, Major League Baseball and LaLiga Santander, Spain’s top soccer league.
The first game to launch is Pick & Play Sports, in which users score points for correctly predicting the winner of a game, the points scored by a top player or specific events that unfold during a game. Players can earn bonus points for building a streak of correct predictions over a series of days.
In a blog post announcing the new free-to-play games, Facebook did not address whether players would be able to redeem their points for prizes, including cash.
If the company were to offer cash prizes, Facebook’s predictor games would be in the same category as Fox Bet’s Super 6 game, where players try to choose the winners of six weekly National Football League games, and PointsBet’s Premier League predictor game in partnership with NBC Sports, in which viewers try to pick the outcome of five soccer games.
Daniel Fletcher, project manager of entertainment with Facebook, said the company will release additional games in the fall linked to popular television shows, such as CBS’ Survivor and ABC’s The Bachelorette, as well as contests for Major League Baseball and LaLiga.
For each slate of games during the LaLiga season, fans will predict a single team that will win on that day. Fans will try to build the longest streak possible of correct predictions, but they cannot pick the same team twice during a streak.
“These games bring the social fun of traditional fantasy sports to simpler formats that are easy to play for people new to prediction games, while still engaging enough for more seasoned players,” Fletcher said in a blog post.
Facebook’s decision to launch free-to-play predictor fantasy games was met with some concern from problem gambling advocates.
Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said he believes there is some risk of future problems with free-to-play and predictor games.
“I imagine they are targeting a younger audience, but this could be a case that because there is no money exchanged, they don’t understand or appreciate the potential harm that it could be creating,” said Brianne Doura-Schawohl, vice president U.S. policy and strategic development with EPIC Risk Management.
Susan Sheridan Tucker, executive director with the Minneapolis-based Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance, said the group would be looking at Facebook’s new product “with a careful eye.” “
At first glance, it looks like they are trying to bring friends together to compete amongst themselves,” Tucker said. “For most this could be considered harmless fun and a way to connect.”
However, Tucker said these games are designed to keep the player engaged for as long as possible.
“There may not be gambling involved at first, but the loss of time engaging in the physical world as opposed to the virtual world is troubling,” she said. “These games can act as primer to sports betting later on.”
“I didn’t notice any age limitations set for this platform. By making the games less complicated, it will likely attract a new base of players. Again, this could act as a primer for future sports betting.” “
Yes, there is reason to keep watch on these apps,” Tucker said.
The addition of fantasy games is expected to help Facebook increase the time users spend on its platform as the company faces increasing competition from TikTok and Twitch.
Currently, TikTok bans the promotion of gambling-related content and earlier this month, Amazon-owned streaming website Twitch banned the sharing of promotional links and referrals to gambling sites.
In January, Twitch launched a virtual currency betting system for its users worldwide, allowing viewers to place bets on in-stream events, including online casino games.
The feature, Channel Points Predictions, gives streamers the ability to “let viewers guess your destiny” by designating an event in-game and defining two possible outcomes.
Viewers wager their virtual currency — known as Channel Points — on these outcomes, up to a cap of 250,000. Viewers who predict correctly win a proportionate share of Channel Points from the total pool.
Predictions are disabled in several jurisdictions globally, however.
According to Twitch, the feature is not available to viewers in Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Quebec, Singapore, Sweden, South Korea and Turkey due to “legal restrictions.”
The following is taken from the National Council on Problem Gambling:
This report on recent research suggests that gambling problems may increase as sports gambling grows explosively at the same time that mobile and online technologies evolve to create seemingly unlimited types of wagering opportunities. Here are important highlights from a special review of more than 140 studies and reports on the connections between sports betting and gambling addiction.
Sports Betting and Online Gambling: A Potentially Volatile Mix
The rate of gambling problems among sports bettors is at least twice as high as among gamblers in general. When sports gambling is conducted online, the rate of problems is even higher, with one study of online sports gamblers indicating that 16% met clinical criteria for gambling disorder and another 13% showed some signs of gambling problems.
Concerns About Modern Sports Gambling
Nearly half of American adults have bet on a sporting event. More and more are betting online, with 45% of sports wagering now taking place on the internet. Today’s online sports betting is particularly concerning for several reasons:
Access: internet gambling is available virtually all the time. – It’s more convenient and provides more privacy. – Early research shows that those who bet using mobile devices have higher rates of problem gambling.
Live “In-Play” Betting: today’s sports gamblers can bet on much more than just the winner of a game. – Sports gamblers can bet — during the game — on hundreds and potentially thousands of discrete events. Any aspect of a team or player’s performance or activity that can be measured is now a potential wager. – This shortens the lag between bet and reward, increasing the speed and frequency of gambling, which increases the risk of problematic behavior.
Professional Athletes Frequently Gamble on Sports
Sports gambling is widespread among professional athletes. While no study of gambling among U.S. professional athletes is publicly available, such studies have been conducted elsewhere. One recent European report showed that 57% of professional athletes surveyed gambled on sports in the previous year, with 8% exhibiting problem gambling behavior, roughly three times greater than the general population.
Youth are at Higher Risk
Data from 2018 shows that more than 75% of students gambled. This is a big concern given the risk-taking behavior that takes place in adolescence and young adulthood, along with gambling being more socially acceptable and glamorized. More than 13% of adolescents wagered money on sports teams according to a study in 2017. Students most often bet on professional football and college basketball. Youth gamblers have higher rates of gambling problems than adults. Males are far more likely than females to both gamble on sports and to experience gambling problems.
Popularity and Growth of Fantasy Sports Gambling
From 2004 to 2018, participation in fantasy sports gambling quadrupled — from 14 million to 57 million. Higher fantasy game participation is associated with significant increases in problem gambling severity.
The Profile of a Sports Bettor
Heavy sports bettors who meet the criteria for clinical gambling disorder are typically male, young (up to age 35), single, fully employed, and have a high level of education. They think sports gambling is more skill than luck, suggesting they’re prone to distortions in thinking. They affiliate with others who favor sports betting, frequently taking advantage of different types of promotions, and are generally highly impulsive.
Marketing Inhibits Ability to Stop Gambling
Aggressive promotions in all forms of marketing and advertising make it more difficult for sports bettors who are trying to curtail their gambling. Ads that emphasize ‘free play,’ tout the ease of placing a bet, or offer risk-free bonuses are particularly problematic.
Sports gambling is growing rapidly with significant potential to create or worsen gambling problems. Twenty-three states to date have legalized sports betting. Moreover, it’s clear that substantial prevention and treatment efforts need to be developed and targeted to those most vulnerable to developing an addiction through sports gambling.
The review was conducted by Jeffrey Derevensky, PhD, and Ken Winters, PhD in the autumn of 2018. The full report, A Comprehensive Review of Sports Wagering and Gambling Addiction, is available here.
On March 3, 2020, Susan Sheridan Tucker, NPGA executive director, and Brianna Doura-Schawohl, director of advocacy for the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), addressed the Minnesota senate’s Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee. They advocated for funding for problem gambling in SF1894. The following are some excerpts from this testimony (the complete testimony can be found at www.northstarproblemgambling.org/advocacy.
“We insist that any measure affecting the availability of gambling must provide for those adversely affected by this activity and will oppose any bill that does not include these provisions.”
“Governor Walz recognized March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month. All over the country organizations like ours will make special efforts throughout the month to educate all that problem gambling is an addiction, a public health issue and treatment is available and works.”
“We must not expand an industry without making provisions for the real people and their families who suffer the psychological, emotional and financial consequences from this insidious addiction.”
“Unlike the bill introduced last session, this version fails to set aside any money for treatment, training, prevention, research and responsible gambling. This is a huge missed opportunity for Minnesota to set a new standard for its gaming industry. Nor does it provide enough language to identify whose standards the new commission will use to prevent compulsive and problem gambling.”
“The United States is undergoing a rapid and massive expansion of gambling since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Murphy vs. NCAA in May 2018. NCPG and the NPGA urge including the following four principles in the bill.”
Ensure that any expansion legislation includes dedicated funds to prevent and treat gambling addiction.
Require operators to implement responsible gaming programs that include comprehensive employee training, access to self-exclusion programs, ability to set limits on time and money spent on betting, and specific requirements for the inclusion of help/prevention messages in external marketing.
Identify an agency or entity with the tools and expertise to enforce responsible gaming requirements and create a comprehensive self-exclusion program.
Conduct research on the prevalence of gambling addiction prior to expansion and at regular periods thereafter in order to monitor impacts of gambling and have data that will support evidence-based mitigation efforts.
“Why wouldn’t Minnesota want to include consumer protection tools? Gaming regulators around the world are adopting more responsible gambling programs because they have made this connection and acknowledge they would prefer to have healthy players participate in their business.”
“We ask that before this bill goes any further, please build in the provisions NPGA and NCPG support. Any and all gambling expansion should mandate adequate consumer protections and set aside at least 1% of the funds from the tax revenue to support Minnesota’s problem gambling programs. We look forward to working with the authors of the bill to ensure that any expansion of sports betting comes with the greatest benefit to the state, at the least risk to its citizens.”
While much of the emphasis of problem gambling programs is on making sure that people with disordered gambling are able to find the help they need, it’s also important to understand the attitudes and beliefs of those who play responsibly.
Such insights can help inform policies and practices designed to prevent and reduce potential harms associated with gambling.
One of the ways to objectively identify and measure the extent of responsible play within a sample of players is through the positive play scale (PPS). The PPS looks at a gambler’s beliefs and behaviors and can be used by those in the gambling industry to assess the effectiveness of responsible gambling strategies, identify specific areas for future focus, and examine the potential value of new responsible gambling initiatives aimed at promoting healthy patterns of gambling.
With this in mind, NPGA commissioned Richard Wood, PhD, noted gambling researcher, to study the level of responsible gambling in Minnesota starting in September 2019. The study, which sampled 1,517 Minnesota players, will provide a benchmark so that future changes in responsible gambling behavior, as measured by the PPS, can be noted over time in response to prevention messaging targeted to players’ behaviors and beliefs.
BELIEFS AND BEHAVIORS MEASURED The study measured two sets of beliefs: personal responsibility (the extent to which a player believes they should take ownership of their gambling behavior) and gambling literacy (the extent to which a player has an accurate understanding about the nature of gambling.) The survey also measured two sets of behaviors: honesty and control (extent to which players are honest with others about their gambling behavior and feel in control of their behavior) and pre-commitment (extent to which a player considers how much money and time they should spend gambling).
Most Minnesota players scored highest on personal responsibility, followed by honesty and control. However, more than half of all players scored medium or low on gambling literacy and pre-commitment. In fact, Minnesota’s pre-commitment scores were lower than those from three other states and Canada (which has invested more funds than the United States in responsible gambling initiatives over the last 10-plus years).
There were no significant differences in beliefs and behaviors based on gender. However, there were marked differences in PPS scores by age. While it’s not known why positive play increases systematically with age, it may have to do with overall exposure to responsible gambling messaging or that messaging is tailored to older people. The results show that the literacy rates are quite low among those aged 18-44, suggesting that better messaging can be developed for younger players.
As it relates to the various games people played, it was clear that those who limited themselves to lottery games had higher (better) PPS scores. Those who played a variety of games exhibited a lower PPS score, particularly for gambling literacy. It’s not clear if exposure to a range of games leads to decrements in positive play or whether those who do not hold positive play beliefs or engage in positive play behaviors are more apt to play multiple games more frequently.
Another key measurement was the relationship between positive play and satisfaction with gambling. Players were more satisfied with the gambling experience when they accepted personal responsibility for their gambling, were honest and in control about their gambling, and set limits on time and money spent. Surprisingly, gambling literacy did not correlate with player satisfaction. This was an unexpected finding and is something to be explored as we develop strategies. The results also suggest that segmentation is critical to understanding the responsible gambling needs of different players.
SURVEY IMPLICATIONS The insights provided by this study will help us design and target prevention messaging to specific kinds of players, including by age or type of play. If we are to succeed in reducing the overall harm that gambling can have on individuals and families, it makes sense to develop multiple strategies that help build knowledge around the risks involved.
In response to the Supreme Court’s legalization of sports gambling in May 2018, more and more states are now introducing sports wagering. Iowa began offering sports betting in August 2019. To get a sense of how things are going for our neighbor to the south — both for sports gambling and the state’s gambling treatment and prevention program in general — Northern Light talked with Eric Preuss, MA, IAADC, CCS, program manager for the Office of Problem Gambling Treatment and Prevention at the Iowa Department of Public Health.
NL: Do you know how much money has been wagered on sports in Iowa since sports gambling has been offered?
EP: The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission has indicated that $212 million has been wagered from August 15, 2019 through December 2019.
NL: How does this compare to expectations?
EP: I don’t think anybody had a really good idea of expectations, but it appears to be doing well. I am hearing there are a lot of new players. Some casinos are reporting that up to eighty percent of wagering is happening online — and that’s without every casino having an online app.
NL: Do you have any idea how many Minnesotans have crossed the state line to place sports wagers?
EP: The Iowa Racing and Gambling Commission and/or Iowa Gaming Association would have a better idea of that number, but in general the Iowa Gaming Association reports that about 60% of those visiting Iowa casinos are from out of state. Diamond Jo Casino in Worth County is one of the Iowa casinos near the Iowa Minnesota border.
NL: Have you learned anything specific about sports gambling and related problem gambling at this early juncture?
EP: We have been very intentional about gathering baseline data about the percentage of Iowans participating in sports betting of all kinds — from legal sports betting of all kinds, to illegal-bookmaking, fantasy sports, and March Madness — so that we can compare behavior before and after the legalization of sports betting. We know that 99% of Iowans who gamble on sports also participate in other gambling activities (lottery, casino and social/ charitable gaming). I suspect that first-time gamblers are coming in who have never made sports bets or even been in a casino before. Our challenge is to make sure that our partners (casinos) make available the materials we provide that are targeted to sports gamblers about responsible gambling , positive play, etc.
The recent Gambling Attitudes and Behavior Sur vey we completed in late 2018 shows that about 14% of Iowans (315,141) have experienced at least one problem related to their gambling and would be considered “at-risk” for developing a gambling disorder. Approximately 18,500 adults Iowa meet the criteria for a gambling disorder, which is about 1% of the adult population. When looking at sports gamblers in Iowa, 23% are considered “at-risk” for problem gambling. So it’s a concern and the challenge is to mitigate the harm to these gamblers, particularly those who are new players.
NL: Do Iowans accept gambling disorder as a public health issue?
EP: That’s a good question. It’s part of a larger series of questions, such as whether Iowans accept tobacco or alcohol use as a public health issue. One in four Iowans knows someone who has been impacted by gambling and one in five has been personally impacted. So there’s good data that suggests
Iowans have been impacted by problem gambling. But there may not be a good understanding about what to do next and the knowledge that treatment is available and helpful. We still have people whose lives are being destroyed and who don’t have a sense of hope that it can be better.
NL: In Minnesota, the problem gambling program resides in human services while it’s in the health department in Iowa. Do you have any insights on that?
EP: Substance use disorder and problem gambling ser vices are housed in the Iowa Department of Public Health while mental health services are within the Department of Human Services. However there is a good working relationship between departments, as well as at the legislative level, to ensure that effective, collaborative, efficient co-occurring ser vices are available and accessible for Iowans. Once such product is yourlifeiowa.org and the Your Life Iowa system, which is an integrated network of services (website, phone, text and chat) offering information and resources for problem gambling, substance use, suicide and mental health. As of July 1, 2019, Your Life Iowa became the statewide crisis line for mental health ser vices and referral. There is continued work as to how to enhance Your Life Iowa to help reduce barriers to care and support those in care.
NL: Did Iowa increase funding for treatment and prevention as part of sports gambling expansion? Where does your existing funding come from and how is it used?
EP: Yes. As part of the introduction of sports betting, our program received an additional $300,000, increasing our overall budget to $2.9 million. These new funds will be used in two ways: 1. Awareness efforts focused on students (primarily 9th grade through 12th grade), and 2. A targeted message media plan. From 1985 through about 2008, our funding was .5% of casino tax revenue, which generated between $6 to $10 million for the Iowa Gambling Treatment Fund. However, since then, due to legislative action, the Iowa Gambling Treatment Program fund was disbanded, and funding has been part of the addiction service appropriation from the state legislature.
NL: Does Iowa pay for gambling treatment? If so, is it for both the gambler and affected others?
EP: Gambling treatment in Iowa is paid for through third-party insurance (Medicaid and other insurers). For those who don’t have insurance, or don’t have insurance that pays for gambling treatment, the Iowa Gambling Treatment Program can assist through our Integrated Provider Network (IPN). IPN-funded providers offer assistance and treatment to the problem gambler, as well as their family members and concerned persons. Additionally, we fund 1-800-BETSOFF through our Your Life Iowa project to assist Iowans in accessing information, resources and locating help/ treatment locations in their county. For more gambling-specific information on Iowans, refer to their reports.
Traditionally, the approach to educating people about problem gambling has been a punitive one — i.e., if you don’t play responsibly you will experience problems. But new insights into the gambling education process, including those shared at the annual New Horizons Conference on Responsible Gambling, suggest a better approach involves the concept of positive play.
Positive messaging emphasizes how players can maximize positive experiences with gambling. This approach seems to resonate well with players and encourages them to adopt responsible gambling strategies.
Adopting positive play strategies could potentially act as a prevention mechanism for the majority of people who gamble without experiencing negative consequences. This could include responsible gambling strategies such as keeping ATM cards at home, setting time and money limits, understanding the odds for each particular game, and knowing how to play the games.
Positive, educational messaging may also help young adults, who have a greater tendency to underestimate the risks of gambling. The inclusion of responsible gambling strategies early on—in teen years when gambling begins—could potentially minimize the numbers of new gamblers landing in the continuum of problem gambling.
A Positive Approach in Helplines Another conference presentation focused on how a positive approach to branding a helpline can help decrease the stigma often associated with having to admit a problem or seek help. In British Columbia and other Canadian provinces, helplines have been renamed Gam Info. The helpline promotes free information and support for gambling and video gaming.
When individuals call in they are asked if they would prefer to talk to someone who is a resources representative rather than a counselor. The rep connects with the individual over the phone or at a coffee shop with the goal of beginning a conversation about the individual’s gambling and what resources they might want to try.
In the two years since launching this program, British Columbia has seen a 92 percent increase in new participants accessing their support and counseling services. Available resources include online self-help, voluntary self-exclusion, social and financial services, counseling and support groups. It’s reasonable to expect that a similar, positive approach could help destigmatize problem gambling in Minnesota and encourage more people to seek available resources.